Do you struggle with asserting and communicating boundaries during lovemaking? Does your lack of boundary setting lead to resentment and discord? Do you wonder why you sometimes don’t feel a boundary until later on?
I have been contemplating why boundaries are such a tricky issue for women. In my own relationship of over 20 years, there has been mask-wearing and fear of rocking the boat or upsetting the status quo. Until recently I didn’t have the support, resources, or alternatives to fill in the gap of me saying “no.” No – and then what?
With the #metoo movement and with consent and boundaries being such hot topics these days, the support, resources and alternatives for boundaries are starting to show up. It makes me feel less alone and less like a screw up.
From my recent victories in this arena, I’d like to provide some modelling and inspiration on the topic of communicating boundaries. But I want to start by talking about how we got into this mess in the first place.
Why does a woman’s “yes” turn quickly into a “no?” Why can a “no” flip into a “yes,” or a “maybe” go either way? Why can it all change 10 minutes later? Is it perhaps that we are in a world where linear thinking and productivity are rewarded and valued? The circular and fluctuating nature of boundaries is misunderstood. It is a feminine way that is connected to nature but it is also connected to survival.
In hunter-gatherer times it was the male role to procreate and provide. It was the female role to procreate and caretake. These two roles of the female could sometimes be in opposition. Females get distracted during sex. We lose our turn on, change our minds, and withhold our love. Because it is written in our DNA not only to make children, but also to protect and nourish what we are ready have. This makes us multi-faceted and multi-tasking as females. We are used to keeping our senses alert and on guard. During lovemaking it can be hard to turn off our inner parent, our inner caretaker who is wondering if the kids are okay, if the cat is fed, if everyone is healthy and safe. We are programmed to pay attention to others and place our pleasure last. We are ready to protect, care for, administer, and nurture even in the throes of sexual passion. This genetic coding is then compounded by the climate of our current culture around sex.
We are in a sex negative and a sexually repressed society. Becoming confident and declarative with needs and desires in the bedroom is a privately radical and victorious act for a woman. We are taught at a young age not to be sexually desirous but also to be sexually available. This leads to confusion in setting boundaries which is already challenged by the genetic imperative to not only procreate but also to be a caretaker.
A third motive that makes boundary setting tough is the influence of the media. There is very poor modelling in our society for setting boundaries and surviving emotionally. I am constantly shaking my head when watching popular films and TV shows especially. Boundary setting in relationships comes across as mean or harsh. Arguments lead to a character turning on his or her heels and leaving the room. There is abandonment and door slamming. One person vents and leaves the premises in a huff while the other person is left alone and suffering. And this is supposed to be normal!
Because of the disconnection, abandonment, and breakup that occurs in film and TV, we associate setting boundaries with losing the possibility of both caretaker AND procreater! No wonder we are in a jam. What is needed is positive modeling of how to offer boundaries with love. I’m going to offer some guidelines on how to do this but first of all we need to set forth two agreements.
First of all, boundaries are never to be questioned. They are what they are in the moment. Boundaries can and will change in five minutes. Once the fridge is stocked or the rent bill is paid, things may feel different. If you stroke my face and hair and gently stroke my body all over, my “no” might dissolve. But for now, a “no” must always be respected as a “no.”
Second, boundaries are not mean. They are not harsh. There does not have to be door slamming or storming off. Our boundaries make us unique and special. So how to offer them with love?
- Accept that you have boundaries and they will show up
- Accept that boundaries are natural and everyone’s boundaries are different.
- Set an intention to communicate boundaries in a way that will maintain connection no matter what.
- When your boundary is touched or crossed, pause. Pause and feel. Take a split second to witness your own nervous system. Validate that your heart rate is increasing, you feel tense, riled up, ready to fight, flee, or freeze. You may feel spacey, numb or out of body. This pause will help you get better at noticing your boundaries in general too. If you communicate the boundary without the pause, from the same energy as the intrusion, pressure, or overwhelm, it will not come across with love. Instead it will be a knee-jerk reaction. So love yourself first.
- Communicate your boundary in a way that affirms connection. Speak from your heart. Provide or maintain touch even while saying “no.” Touch is very reassuring.
- Prepare yourself for possible disappointment. Just as you validate your own personal experience, you must allow for everyone else to have their own. This does not mean you or your boundaries are wrong. You can acknowledge both your own trigger and the disappointment of another. You do not have to apologize for your boundary in order to empathize with another person. You can let your lover know that you see it sucks for them to be turned away, that they may feel shame, frustration, sadness, or abandonment. Stay with their disappointment. It’s okay.
- If possible, offer a redirect. For example:” I’m not feeling warmed up, but I would love to get there. Could you run me a bath, make me a treat, massage my neck, tell me what you love about me…” another example:” Wow, I’m feeling a lot of feistiness from you. It actually makes me feel like screaming or fighting you off right now. Can we possibly play with that?” Or “I’d love to see you chop some wood right now with your shirt off. Can I watch you work out?”
Offering a boundary with love has three elements. First, it comes from self-love. Second, it is clear and not hiding anything. Third, it maintains connection through eye contact, touch, hearing disappointment in the moment, and offering alternative connective activities.
Since I have become better at communicating my boundaries in the bedroom as a woman, I am seeing how my clear “no” paves the way for my clear “yes.” This means I am experiencing more fun, turn on, and empowerment in sex. I also see how my desires and boundaries are expanding the breadth and depth of our connection, which is offering my partner new perspectives and experiences of sex. Because of this he is getting more confident in being guided to respect as well as please me. It’s a win – win!
However, let’s be kind with ourselves. This issue has been with us since a while. We are no longer sitting around a fire, worried about invasion from animals or other tribes, however we are still human. We are undergoing a huge shift in power dynamics on earth right now. And any new skill takes time and practice.
If you would like some support in how to communicate boundaries with love, let’s talk about what you struggle with and what may help you gain confidence. Your boundaries arise moment to moment. There is time to pause and breathe and feel. You do not have to be a victim of your DNA or your society. Women, we can do this!!
Love is your nature,